In roughly two years, the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA will expire. I came out of the combine at least moderately optimistic that labor peace might be extended before this current contract ends, perhaps even without all of the doom and gloom that generally comes along with CBA talks.

Don't get me wrong, it won't be easy and it won't be without a fight, and there will be some contentious moments for sure – as that is the very nature of these dialogues anytime it is labor vs. management with upwards of $20B in revenue at issue – but I was surprised to hear a few high-ranking sources express their sentiment about the next round of labor negotiations. Of course, the interpretations of the underlying issues at stake and the overall climate of the league always differ some, depending on which side you are speaking with, but, call me crazy, I came away thinking common sense might prevail with this 10-year CBA now drawing closer to its conclusion.

Specifically, one high-ranking league source indicated his impression that a deal could be reached prior to the start of the 2020 season (it expires after the 2020 season) and sensed that both sides were motivated to work hard towards a resolution well before this deal runs out. He indicated there was significant common ground between the sides and that early, informal exchanges of ideas have been overwhelmingly positive. The climate seems ripe for negotiations, and this source believed there was opportunity for substantial give-and-take on issues like the marijuana policy, as well as on some key economic issues.

One NFLPA source agreed with the overall thrust of that sentiment, but cautioned that things are in their infancy and that nothing substantial had taken place yet. Another NFLPA source indicated that the union must continue to prepare the players for "the best-case and the worst-case scenario, which in this case would be another lockout." And you will certainly hear plenty of rhetoric about a labor stoppage, as both sides carefully chose their public language so as not to cede ground.

Both sources on the NFLPA side believed their side would be willing to sit down at the bargaining table sooner rather than later, and both the NFL and NFLPA have been quietly preparing for that scenario as well, sources said. The league source noted that with the league's broadcast contracts – the biggest revenue stream in the sport – expiring after the 2021 season, it would behoove both the NFL and NFLPA to have an agreement in place well before then. The landscape for televised sports has changed greatly with technological advances since 2011 – with games streaming on the web and entities like Amazon and Google and Netflix now major players in the broadcasting field – and there are more potential suitors than ever for the NFL product.

The league could begin testing those waters well before the expiration of the 2021 deals if it has labor certainty. Furthermore, the influx of widespread gambling revenues – via national and local sponsorships and advertising and licensing – could involve issues that would have to be discussed with the NFLPA, and with the owners eager to begin tapping into those vast resources, there is further impetus to begin labor talks sooner rather than later. One NFLPA source also noted some of those factors, and the fact that the overall US economy is in a different place than it was coming out of a recession during the last round of CBA talks, as potential positive harbingers of productive talks … with the caveat that things can always go off the rails as well.

I don't get the sense that either side would be stuck on a radical departure from the current economic model, and there appears to be more cohesion among the owners now than there was eight years ago, as well. Which perhaps means less in-fighting there. With Roger Goodell in his final years as commissioner, might the league be more inclined to soften its stance on some matters involving a commissioner's powers in off-field matters?

I suspect we begin finding out much more as 2019 unfolds, and certainly coming out of the owner's meetings at the end of this month.

News and Notes

  • I'll be keeping a particular eye on the Raiders and Eagles in the Antonio Brown sweepstakes. Much was made of the Titans elsewhere as a potential suitor, but I'm told they have nothing going with the Steelers. The Skins have internal issues about the feasibility of a Brown trade. Owner Dan Snyder is most intrigued by it but others are cautioning against it. The Saints and Seahawks strongly considered the matter internally but don't appear to be moving forward with it. And the Steelers won't be cutting Brown to avoid a roster-bonus payment, either.  
  • The more teams I talk to, the more I hear the same thing – people are convinced Kyler Murray is going first overall. Probably to the Cardinals, or maybe via a trade. But this draft is going to be all about him. A few execs I spoke to believe the Cardinals will have a very difficult time getting more than a third-round pick for Josh Rosen should they lock-in on Murray a year after trading up to take Rosen 10th overall.
  • I would set the odds higher that the Texans tag-and-trade Jadaveon Clowney than I would on the Chiefs making a tag-and-trade deal for Dee Ford.
  • Even after some of the freakish athletic feats at the combine, especially among the receivers, there is skepticism about the overall group. One executive who has been exceedingly strong in his evaluations of that position privately with me over the years came away from Indy largely unimpressed. "You might as well trade for AB or OBJ, because this is a bad draft for receivers," he said. "I don't care who ran what, this is not a good group." I mentioned D.K. Metcalf's uncanny size and speed, but this evaluator has issues with his hands and doesn't seem him as a fluid, natural catcher of the ball.
  • Sounds like the Chiefs are having a very difficult time getting anything of value for Justin Houston, given how steep his contract is. Teams are content to wait for him to get cut – which seems like an eventuality – and then a nice market will form at a lower price-point.